21 Month Old Throws Food/milk During Meals

Updated on March 04, 2008
S.D. asks from Manchester, MD
33 answers

My 21 month old daughter eats pretty well but will eat some or most of her food then start throwing it on the floor. She'll throw her sippy cup anytime during the meal and then asks for more so I know it is not because she's finished with it. It seems like it is more an act of defiance because of the look she'll give me just prior to throwing the food or milk as if she's saying "ha, watch this Mama!"
I've tried explaining to her that we don't throw our food in our house - we eat it; tried only giving her a few pieces at a time; tried saying "no throwing food"; tried taking the entire tray away (but she is underweight so I hate to take any food from her). The doctor even told me to ignore it because she's doing it for attention. I get that but ignoring it isn't working either.
Does anyone have any tricks that have worked for them? I'll try anything to not have to clean up half the meal from the floor every time she eats!

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S.D.

answers from Sarasota on

I believe and I have read that it is normal for children at that age to throw their food, plates, cups, etc. Part of the reason they do it is they are learning and fasinated with cause/effect/how gravity works, etc. Before I fed my daughter at that age I just tried to set up where she could do the least damage and sometimes I put her high chair on a mat for easier clean up.

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C.H.

answers from Washington DC on

My daughter started spitting her food out to get attention. I litterally would leave the room for 2 minutes (she was strapped into the chair and I didn't go far, just out of site). When I came back, I didn't say a word, just kept on going as though nothing happened. She didn't respond to positive attention and seemed to feed off the negative attention. Not giving her any attention worked! It took about a week to completely end it all. Good luck!

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D.H.

answers from Richmond on

Hi,
I struggled with the mess for a long time (3 boys, 6,5,3) They don't throw their food down anymore, but I mostly just lived with it til they grew out of it. My solution - we got a dog - he makes a good vacuum after meal times! Now I just have pet hair to vacuum up instead of food.

Good Luck!
D.

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L.D.

answers from Washington DC on

Hi S.,

I had this problem too and it turned out to be a phase with my daughter. Occasionally she'll still do it. I actually had her pick the food/cup up and explain while doing it that it's not nice to throw food/cup. I am a police officer's wife too so I feel your pain.

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E.P.

answers from Washington DC on

OH S., S.,
This could be one of the most annoying losing battles in all of child rearing. I am still battling this issue with my 23 month old. At this age they spend all days exploring and throwing food on the floor really is exploring to them.....even if it is the 400th time. It really used to bug me but I realized that is why they sell those plastic sheets for under the highchair...for the millions of parents pulling their hair out for this very same issue. What I would do is as soon as she throws food/milk take her down from the highchair then try again later. Keep it up being consistent with this (hard to do). These little ones get bored after only 10 minutes of eating so that is usualy when the food fight begins. Don't worry, they don't need to eat as much as we do in a sitting and she will be fine. Otherwise know that this too shall pass.

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J.S.

answers from Norfolk on

Hi S.,
What we have always done is when they throw something we take their hands and force them to pick it up and put it back where it goes and get on their level and tell them we do not throw next time you throw it you will pick it up then go to the naughty corner. Now she may fight you, but you take her arms and if you have to take her hands in yours and drag her over there and pick it up with her. This has worked for both our kids and FYI both my kids have always been under weight and we don't worry about it anymore, because as they get older they are now eating more and I just heard from a ped. that as long as they eat one good meal a day and only snack on the other two meals then you are doing good. Now you have to be consistent and pull her out of her highchair as soon as she throws it, then put her back as soon as you make her pick it up. She needs to know that if she makes the mess then she has to clean it up. FYI we started the naughty corner and discipline on our childrens first b-day. We have a 1 1/2yr old and 3 year old and they are both good children with different personalities, so it worked for both. Good Luck!!! Also I did this when teaching them to clean-up along with the song and they now both clean their rooms at night with no help from us. Of course we have to go in there and sing and keep reminding them to clean, but we don't help anymore. Remember they will give you resistance, because of course it will always be the battle of the wills, but Im like you throwing things is nasty, so that was a battle I was willing to fight.

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A.S.

answers from Los Angeles on

My daughter did that around the same age too. I made her clean it up. She was not happy to say the least. She cried but she understood what I asked and she had to stay there to pick up all the food she threw on the floor. Only did it one other time.
Hope that helps.

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C.F.

answers from Washington DC on

I'm with Ladybug on this one - the only thing I would add is STAND FIRM on however you choose to handle this. Its the first issue of the rest of her life, and if you waffle or back down, she will remember and make it twice as difficult the next time and so on and so on.

Good luck!

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J.O.

answers from Richmond on

she is testing limits and looking for attention. However, she is so young. this too will pass! I'd take away anything she throws after a warning and ony give her a little at a time. Other than that just remeber all this will pass! If she throws more then clear her plate and say all done! She'll realize it isn't fun after a while. my son did it because my older son would laugh.

D.S.

answers from Allentown on

Hi S.,

Number One, This child is not doing anything at of defiamce. Here is a resource person who can give you advice on this behavior who is a child development educator. [email protected]____.com Hope this helps. D.

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T.N.

answers from Washington DC on

The only thing I can offer is to immediately take the food away when she starts throwing it. Be firm and even if she is hungry, take it away, tell her eating time is over, and then try again in 30-60 minutes. She's old enough to understand consequences and as long as you follow through and don't bend, she'll learn not to throw. And if she's looking right at you when she does it, then yes she is definitely looking for a reaction.

If you're worried because she's underweight make sure you're offering her the higher protein and fat foods first so she eats those - meats, cheeses, etc.. My DD is a little underweight too and I add butter to her vegetables and give her avocado most days, or if she's not in the mood for it, I'll mix it in to other things and she doesn't taste it. But whenever she throws food, she's done for that time and Mommy packs it up... and she's only 13 months. Ecen though she's underweight as long as I know she's eating a reasonable amount, and she gets generally healthy check-ups I try not to worry too much about her not getting enough nutritional value in what she does eat throughout the day. I also feed her healthy snacks a couple times a day and she eats those out of her highchair and eats most of it just fine.

Hope that helps some! I think the main thing you have to get under control is your not worrying so much about her being underweight as offering her healthy enriched foods, her eating a reasonable amount, and then following through on "mealtime is over" when food/sippy starts to fly.

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S.H.

answers from Charlottesville on

S.,
My youngest daughter did this for quite a while. Of course they know better, but are looking for any respose they get. Ladybug's response is actually what the doctor told me to do. She was also underweight but the doctor assured me that she would not starve herself, and she didn't. Once she realized that I meant business, she cut it out. I realized that it was also a sign of her getting full. She would eat some and then start throwing stuff around, indicating that she was done and was just plain bored. I then made her get down from the table and pick up what she had thrown. At first she thought this was great. After a few times though she didn't like it so much anymore. This is what I did - If she did it at breakfast, I would put her down and make her help me clean up the mess. She would then get no snack before lunch. I gave her lunch and 9 times out of 10 she wouldn't do it again at lunch. It was trying at times. The other key thing is to stay calm. Most of the time they are looking for a response. I didn't give her multiple chances either. The first time she threw something, whether it be her cup, fork, whatever, I put her down from the table and told her she had to wait until the next meal (after she picked up what she had thrown!) It only took a couple of times for her to figure out that if she misbehaved at the table, she didn't get her snack inbetween. I also continually asked her if she were getting full so that I could take her plate away before she was tempted to throw it. Eventually she learned to tell me that she was "all done" and we prevented the situation all around. I hope you can find something that works for you. I don't remember her ever having to skip a whole meal, but we did skip snack time a few times. I could never with hold a meal, it would make me feel terrible, but that's just me. A lot of my friends did it with their kids and had no problem with it, and I didn't judge them for it, I just couldn't do it myself. The doctor actually recommended it, and I just couldn't do it. It's more about them learning self control and in the end they will. It just takes a lot of trial and error. Good luck, and most of us have been there with you - cleaning the floor after meal time!! :)

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R.D.

answers from Washington DC on

Hey S.!
I've been where you are and it is no picnic! I hear and feel your frustration. Have you tried pushing her chair up to the table so that she feels she is a part of the meal? Maybe she resents having herself set apart from you guys at mealtime. This is one of those things that kids do and usually stop on their own. Due to her weight I know you are concerned about keeping food from her, but don't give her anything to drink until the meal is finished and don't fill it up. You've probably tried some of these things and other suggestions as well and there may be no solution other than hanging in there and keeping your wits about yourself. Whatever you do, don't let her think she is winning. Don't yell or react when she does it. Also, when the meal is over let her down and make her clean it up. By this age, she knows how to put things in trash. Have her clean it up and put it in the trash. Maybe she will not like it and this may stop this behavior sooner rather than later. I hope some of this helps.

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B.P.

answers from Washington DC on

Hi S.,
A 21 month old is very near to being 2 years old and of course can understand what you're saying and that you disapprove of this behavior. So, yes sometimes you may have to give consequences for this behavior such as removing the plate, tray, etc... Also children like to go to such places as McDonald's, Chuckee Cheeses, and the likes, explain to her that in these places it's not appreciated that you throw food on the floor. These tips will not catch on right away, in the meantime lift the chair up and place a shower curtain on the floor under the chair to catch all the mishaps. When all else fails remember, she will outgrow this phase.

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K.A.

answers from Washington DC on

Hey S.,
This behavior is totally normal and not unusual at all... most kids around that age (actually beginning around 14 months or so) throw their food. They typically do it for several reasons - watching the cause-and-effect (meaning you drop something and it falls to the ground - and also mom picks it up :-), simply being playful, not being hungary anymore, or just attention. I would do several things all at once... I would start by feeding her the food and placing objects in front of her that she can play with and freely throw (like nurf balls) - when giving her the food and the balls, I would emphasize the difference between the two. Then, after a few days, I would start placing small amounts of food in front of her and if she throws any of it, I would ask her if she needs the balls to throw because "remember, we eat food and we throw balls." I would also take ANY and ALL opportunities for positive reinforcement of the desired behavior - this means I'd give her attention and praise her when she is NOT throwing the food rather than doing so when she is. Slowly, you can increase the amount of food you put in front of her and my guess is, she will still throw from time to time. But eventually, you can make the throwing of the food a signal to both of you that her meal time is finished. Anyway, just an idea for you ... not just from a mom but one who is a professional in this area :-)

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M.C.

answers from Washington DC on

Hi. My 16 month old is doing this. She looks right at you and says 'uh oh'. It is completely a game, which is fine. She is seeing what she can get away with. Testing limits. We have a playpen in the kitchen/dining area. When my daughter does starts throwing things we take her out of the highchair and put her in the playpen. She either watches us finish our meal or plays with her toys. We do this even when we have company over.

For clean up, get a water-proof sheet to put under the highchair, then you just have to pick up the sheet and carry the mess to the sink.
M.

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R.E.

answers from Richmond on

You should take the food away from her. When kids start to play with their food it usually means that they are done with it. By taking it away, you are teaching her that it is not okay to play with her food and it also saves you from having to clean up a big mess!

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M.C.

answers from Norfolk on

Hey, you're not alone. Our children all did that when they were in their high chairs. I think it has something to do with asserting their freedom when they feel confined. You might try a small child's table and chair instead if you have one -- I noticed my kids all did better in regards to food throwing once they were able to simply sit at a table and not be locked in. If you don't have one I guess maybe a vinyl table cloth on the floor and have her eat picnic style to see if it helps. Good luck!

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K.C.

answers from Norfolk on

I remember from my own kids (I also babysit a 20 month old right now) that when they are done eating, they start feeding the floor. They think it's hilarious. LOL!
Some kids, especially if they are smaller, will eat in tiny spurts all day long. My daughter, now 12, was like that too.
Weird for us as moms but fine for them. Give her less food to start with, then as soon as the first piece hits the floor, take the rest away. Then give her a snack later on.
Also, I didn't give them a sippy cup a lot of times until AFTER dinner. This way they WANT the drink they are given and can't play with the cup during dinner.
K.

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D.R.

answers from Norfolk on

Dear S.,

Your little princess is on a power trip. She just likes watching you stress out and clean up after her. DO NOT let her control you. Tell her that if she throws her food on the floor, she will not get any more--AND MEAN IT. I know you're worried about her weight because you say that she's underweight but believe me, when she gets hungry enough she will learn to eat her food, not throw it on the floor. She is old enough to begin to learn proper table etiquette. Explain the rules to her and then STICK TO THEM. Every day at each meal, remind her that if she throws her food on the floor, you will take it away and she wont get any more. Then, as soon as she throws something on the floor, take the rest of her food away and don't give her ANYTHING to eat until her next meal--no matter how much she cries, begs, throws tantrums or whatever. This is a battle for control that you cannot afford to lose. If she can control you at 21 months, imagine what life will be like when she is 16. All children play with their food to a certain extent and it's part of learning new tastes and textures. It's OK if she makes a mess when she's eating, that is normal. But deleberately throwing food on the floor and then asking for more is about control, not hunger. You will have to be strong and stick to your guns. The more you give in to her, the longer you will have this problem. The doctor is right in saying that she is doing it for attention but just ignoring it is not the answer. She needs to know that the behavior is NOT acceptable and that she will have to suffer the consequences. Make sure you are only letting her have water between meals. When she starts behaving at the table, then she can have a little snack between meals. Raising children is never easy but at this age, almost everything you do has repercussions. It's your job to make as many as possible, positive ones. Good luck. Abuela

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N.S.

answers from Norfolk on

It's just a faze that she will go through. My first son went through that stage and now my second son is doing it. It's anoying but theres nothing we can do about it. They think it's funny. They will eventually get board with it and stop.
Hope this helps. - - Nicole

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C.H.

answers from Washington DC on

Hey S.!
I agree with the reponses... take the food away and, most importantly, have her clean up. Good Luck!

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M.S.

answers from Washington DC on

Give her a small plate with one piece at a time and leave the cup on the floor when she throws it. Her appetite will improve her behavior. Do not condone throwing food. If she throws it she's finished, period. You will be surprised how fast she will improve. Tell her these rules and keep them. Watch the movie "Miracle Worker". A little tough love from you will help her greatly.

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K.C.

answers from Washington DC on

Hi S.,

Throwing is normal behavior, so is throwing food. Once she starts throwing, she is probably not hungry anymore, let her finish, then take her down. You can double the frequency of offered meals to make sure she gets enough to eat. Just don't react to her throwing, or it will increase.

Also you might try a throwing game a few minutes a day (not near meal times) and praise her for her new found skill while ignoring the food tossing.

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G.C.

answers from Washington DC on

Never any fun to have to deal with meal time drama! We've had to deal with other types of behavioral stuff at meals and basically we really do remove from them the item they are using inappropriatley - whether it's food, drink, utensil - whatever it is, it goes with a pre-warning of if they do it again, it goes away. If it's just getting out of hand, we then choose when we're going to end the meal (like the 3rd time she does XX or if 3 things happen that she knows we don't approve of) and we warn them that their meal will be over if they do that. And then, we follow through with it.

With the fear of not having your daughter eat enough, and since it sounds like you have some great flexibility by being home with her all day, I'd recommend adding in more frequent snack/meal times throughout the day so you know she is getting the chance to eat but you won't be so worried if you've had to end a snack/meal time early cause of behavior. I think it is about "testing" the boundaries. And, it's an opportunity for her to start learning that what you say, you really mean and are willing to follow through. It's so hard, i know! (Oh and I'm a mom of 3 - 4.5yr daughter, 3yr old son, 9 month old daughter)

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W.S.

answers from Washington DC on

this is a game thats all my 5yro daughter at age 2 throw her sippy and gave sissy a black eye no more sippys after that but this is a game she dues something and mommy dues it with her

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B.W.

answers from Washington DC on

My understanding is that throwing food is just the stage when they are learning about hand-eye coordination. Maybe try giving her lots of practice w/ toys and at food time she'll be hungrier and full of up throwing...worth a try! They definately look for "reaction" so the biggest thing is not to make a big deal of it, to make a big deal of the eating part..reward what you like with smiles, and positive words, ignore the throwing food as much as possible

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C.C.

answers from Washington DC on

We got a dog when my daughter was about this age...and our floors were much cleaner after mealtime! She learned that anything that hit the floor or left unattended within the reach of a Labrador Retreiver disappeared.

Not that was why we got the dog. It just worked out that way.

L.C.

answers from Washington DC on

Before you sit down for a meal tell her that if she throws her food or her cup, then she will be finished with her meal and there will be nothing until the next meal. No snacks. Nothing but water.
Then, when she throws her food, take it all away and put her down from the table. Tell her that she threw food, so she must be done. Do not make a scene, just be factual. Do not dwell. Just put her down and finish your meal while you ignore her.
It won't take long for her to figure it out.

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T.R.

answers from Norfolk on

S.,

I'm the Mama of four and have a 22 month old currently. We're going through it, too and we've been there done that before. Different things work for different kids. Our oldest was underweight, but we would still take it away. Trust me, they eat when they are hungry! How much is she getting between meals? I had a set snack schedule and didn't let them graze. I think those little people need more than just three meals a day, but even now we have snack at a pretty regular time twice a day and that's it.

We also would remove them from the table. Strap her in her booster and turn her into the corner for a timeout and IGNORE her. Let her have a fit and continue with your meal as if she isn't having one. Then tell her that she can come back if she's ready to not throw her food. Do it three or four times if you need to, then simply remove her food and let her out of the chair.

It's hard with a first. In the book Babywise 2, the best chapter is on high chair manners. It made all the difference!

HTH!
T.

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C.F.

answers from Shreveport on

If your daughter is very independent minded, then one response to her throwing her food might be to insist that you feed her instead of that she self-feed. Whenever DD (20.5 months old) tries that, I remind her that if she can't feed herself nicely like a big girl, mummy has to do it for her. (She sometimes asks to be fed by me, but hates not having the option!). It usually seems to do the trick...she wants to be a big girl :)

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A.G.

answers from Washington DC on

Welll... I think you know!!!
Like you said, you've tried taking the tray away but you worry because she is underweight.
First of course consistency!
Then when you do take the tray away EVERY time she throws, she will eventually know that mom is serious.
Right now she probably figures (as most children do) that eventually she will win if she just sticks it out: mom will give me the tray anyway.
Even with her being underweight, she will eat when she is hungry.
She is probably throwing a) because she is not hungry and/or b) to get a reaction.
Getting a reaction isn't always bad if that reaction is appropriate, "We don't throw our food/sippy" then take it away and let her down from her chair.
If you consistently do this, she will learn.
Kids know which buttons to push. She may not know that you worry about her weight, but she does know for some reason you will giver her tray back...

Make sense?
It is not easy at all to correct behavior! BUt if you can set her up for "obeying" or listening to the rules at the table, it will benefit when other things come up.
Stay consistent in whatever you do so she knows what will happen when she...!

Best of luck!

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N.W.

answers from Washington DC on

My now-22-month-old went through this about 5 months ago or so. It lasted a good two months. I think he sometimes did it because he was done, but a lot of the time it was just because it was fun or he was beng defiant. I think mostly what got him over it was just time (the game got old to play) but I also started not giving him back whatever he threw and as soon as he started throwing I pulled him straight out of his highchair - no negotiations or "one more chance"s. And no matter how much he cryed I would not put him back into his highchair at that point. (You can't starve your baby so I always made sure he had something else soon - but not until he had done something else for a while.)
Good luck and hang in there!

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